Friday, January 13, 2006

Hosting a Wine Tasting Party – Overview

I thought I'd include a basic list of things to do for a wine tasting party–much easier than slogging through several paragraphs about it. Here goes!
  1. Pick a region, varietal, colour, winery or price range
  2. Send out invites requesting guests (each couple) to bring a bottle of wine fitting the night’s “theme”, i.e. Sonoma reds, Zinfandels or Okanagan Gewürztraminers, etc. Ask guests to RSVP with the name of wine their bringing (so you can prepare the list of wines to hand out at the end of the night)
  3. Plan appetizer menu and shop for groceries and wine in advance
  4. Plan your music (Dead air is dull!)
  5. Make sure you have enough wine glasses and ID tags (guests have their glasses for the night; cuts down on dishes and “lost” glasses)
  6. Create a wine tasting sheet with room for rating and note taking for each wine to be tasted (Make sure there’s enough wine for tasting and drinking afterwards. A bottle for every two people is usually good.)
  7. The day of the party prepare food and a non-alcoholic punch (or have juice, pop, something without alcohol); chill white wine
  8. Lay out food buffet style, with napkins, plates, etc; set out glasses and ID tags
  9. Make sure wine books, wine lingo sheets, tasting sheets and pens are out
  10. Have a separate table or counter for the wine; have paper bags ready to cover up the wine bottles (put chilled wines in a plastic bag first so the condensation doesn’t make a soggy mess of the bag); have a dump bucket for the vile wines
  11. Number all wines and make sure it matches your unveiled wine list that guests receive after the tasting
  12. Let guests snack and mingle a while; chill white wines brought by guests that aren’t chilled (Note: remind guests bringing white wines to chill them before coming over); open red wines to breathe
  13. Now for the fun part! Have the tasting and discussions; take time to have fun, cleanse palates with bread and water
  14. Uncover the wines and hand out the wine list for guests to compare their notes and ratings
  15. Have fun drinking your favourites!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Having a Wine Tasting Party

Good wine with friends—what could be better? Having an informal wine party. It’s fun and well worth the planning. Any good party takes a bit of preparation, from the menu to the music. A wine tasting just has a few more steps—mainly making sure guests RSVP and coordinating who is bringing what wine (unless you have deep pockets and are supplying all the wine). Usually, I get every couple to bring a bottle within a certain price range and from a certain region, though you could stick to a certain varietal or even colour.

I like to know before the party what wines will be tasted so I can make up a list for guests to take home, along with their tasting notes. Also, I need to know how many bottles I’m supplying. Depending on how many guests, having 5-9 wines to taste is good. If you have too many wines, guests will get buzzed and think everything’s fabulous because their taste buds are deadened.

Since it’s a wine tasting and not a dinner, keep the appetizers simple. Quiches, fruit and veggies are great, as well as cheese, as it’s a natural accompaniment to wine. Have a variety of cheeses, from soft (Brie) to hard (cheddar), but label them if they're flavoured or specialty. Also have plain bread and crackers to cleanse the palate while tasting wines. Also make sure there’s plenty of water—both for drinking and for rinsing out glasses between wines so there’s no remaining residue from the previous wine, no matter how tasty.

I like blind tastings, where paper bags cover the bottles. This way personal biases about varietals, producers and price are pushed aside. It’s good to have a designated pourer to keep the tasting going smoothly and the group at relatively the same pace. Make sure you start with white wines before tasting the reds, and always go from light to full-bodied with both wines.

I give guests a wine tasting sheet I created where they can rate the wines from 1-10, with 10 being amazing. There’s also room for notes about the aromas and flavours. Before the tasting guests can flip through wine books or look at sheets of common wine terms to help them with their own notes. If people are new to the wine tasting experience, introduce the swirl & sniff. Get them to experience a wine’s aromas before tasting (sip & swish!). I find that at least three sips are needed to truly determine the different tastes and to really enjoy it, but then again, sometimes it’s love or hate at first sip.

After each wine is tasted, it’s fun to go around the room and comment on our impressions. What one person loves, another will hate. Sometimes everyone agrees on a clear winner or loser. It’s entertaining to hear descriptions of different scents and flavours—amazing how creative people can get. It’s also surprising when people you least likely expect to be enthusiastic about describing wine turn out to be the most insightful.

After the tasting, the wines are revealed and the wine list is given out so that partiers can identify what they liked. They also now have some names to look for the next time they're at the liquor store or in a wine shop.

So, next time you’re thinking of having a party, why not try a wine tasting. No one has to be a sommelier (though, that would be a bonus), just keep it fun and informal. Guaranteed, your guests will learn something, even if it’s that they love California Zinfandels or they hate a particular brand of Cabernet Sauvignon. They might even discover that they have a knack for describing what’s in their glass.